Ireland has one of the highest gender imbalances among teachers in primary and secondary schools in western Europe, according to new EU figures.
Almost nine out of ten teachers at primary level and seven out of ten in post-primary are women — the widest gender gap in the profession for the last 50 years.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), the largest teaching union in the country, has called for a fresh initiative to address the low level of males entering teaching training.
“It is an issue of concern and there should be more of a gender balance within teaching,” an INTO spokesman said.
“It is time that the department of education revisited what it is doing to make teaching attractive for both genders, particularly males.”
The organisation said it was firmly opposed to any attempt at introducing quotas.
Since the 1970s, when men accounted for nearly 40 per cent of all teachers, there has been a significant and steady decline in male participation in the profession both in Ireland and across the EU, particulary at primary level.
The union said historic figures were affected by the fact that one of the three main teacher training colleges, St Patrick’s in Drumcondram, Dublin, only started admitting female students in 1971.
New figures suggest that female teachers are over-represented in primary education across the EU. In the Republic they constitute 87 per cent of all 32,800 teachers at primary level, slightly higher than the EU average of 85 per cent.
In western Europe, only Italy and Austria have higher levels of female primary school teachers.
At secondary level there are more male teachers, although women remain in the majority in all 28 EU member states.
On average women account for 64 per cent of all teachers in European secondary schools.
In Ireland, women account for 71 per cent of the 23,900 teachers in the country’s secondary schools. Among the original 15 EU member states of the EU, only Italy has a higher proportion of female secondary teachers.
The INTO said that it had made progress in the past by encouraging career counsellors to promote teaching to both genders, but that the initiative had fallen foul of cutbacks to career guidance services.
The spokesman said the gender imbalance did not appear to apply when it came to promotion within Irish schools as male teachers accounted for a disproportionate number of school principals. Just under 50 per cent of school principals were men at primary level.
A spokesman for Richard Bruton, the education minister, said that a diverse, representative and gender-inclusive teaching profession was important, but that female domination of the profession was an international phenomenon and not unique to Ireland.
“Teacher quality is the most important factor influencing student performance,” the spokesman said.
In 2006, the education department launched a promotion campaign to encourage a greater number of males to enter the teaching profession after it was recommended in a report the previous year.